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Know the West

Sound science or red tape?


A proposed amendment to the Endangered Species Act could weaken the roles of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in deciding which species do - or do not - get federal protection.

Since the Act was passed in 1973, the two agencies have been responsible for listing species and then ensuring their protection. But the "Sound Science Planning Act," introduced by U.S. Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, mandates that any new listings be reviewed by a panel of scientists appointed by the secretary of the Interior and the governor of the state in which the species occur.

"Often in the West, decisions are made under the Act that haven't had a second look by independent scientists, and then have adverse effects on communities," says Dallas Boyd, spokesman for Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who helped draft the act. Walden's campaign to reform the ESA arose from the conflict last summer in the Klamath Basin, where farmers' water supplies were cut off to save three species of endangered fish. The federal government's original fish study was later debunked by a peer-reviewed - and controversial - National Academy of Sciences study (HCN, 3/4/02: Klamath Basin II: The sage continues).

But Peter Galvin with the Center for Biological Diversity says the best available scientific data is already used under environmental laws. "That's why ÔSound Science' is a misnomer," says Galvin. "It should be called the 'Red Tape Act that Will Make Species Go Extinct.' "

The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee in early July and may reach the House floor by the end of the year.